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Use Your Sense to Increase Business

Boost supplemental sales by exercising good judgment and building relationships.

By Steve Howard

When I tell agents that one way to get more business is to think outside the box, it sometimes backfires because they think I’m asking them to do something on the fringe. But what I’m really trying to do is get them to view their existing opportunities in a different way.

Some of the most successful producers I know succeed not because they are smarter or know something their competition doesn’t. They are successful because they can see more opportunities within their existing client base. This situation is especially true when selling supplemental insurance products.

There are possibilities everywhere. Finding them requires using all five senses: sight, touch, hearing, and if you’re willing to stretch with me a little, even taste and smell.

See the changing face
A generation ago, the American workforce was overwhelmingly white and overwhelmingly male. Today, the full-time workforce is 43 percent female and the part-time workforce is 66 percent female, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The racial makeup of the workforce has also changed. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that the African-American population grew by almost 20 percent during the 1990s, faster than any other population group. It now represents between 12 percent and 13 percent of the total.

For many, the dream of owning their own business has become a reality. From 1987 to 1997, the number of African-American-owned businesses increased by 46 percent, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration. And if you want to picture the face of these new business owners, think female. Black Business Journal reports African-American and other minority women have created more than 300,000 businesses since 1992.

Record numbers of immigrants are pursuing the American dream as well. Each group offers tremendous potential, provided advisors understand their values and culture and are willing to develop relationships with them. These groups are largely underserved by the insurance industry. A 1995 Commonwealth Fund report revealed that nearly a third of minority Americans don’t have health insurance, but they do have favorable impressions of life and health insurance companies.

The right touch
You already know that good relationships with your customers can become like an annuity for your business, paying off year after year. But as new technology allows providers to bring more products to market faster, your established customer relationships will help you know who could benefit from these supplemental products, such as cancer, critical illness, disability or hospital confinement insurance.

Clients who are single parents might be interested in products that protect their children in case they are unable to work or face a life-threatening disease. Accident, disability or critical illness insurance could be a good fit for these customers.

Families in which both parents work may be interested in hospital confinement insurance. Many people fail to consider the impact that the hospitalization of one parent can create. Like most supplemental products, the benefits of a hospital confinement product can be used to pay medical or nonmedical expenses, depending on the policyholder’s need.

Take time to listen
A great way to communicate benefits to prospects begins with listening. When you take the time to listen, you discover concerns and objections that keep your prospects from buying. You also send the message that you’re interested in building a relationship. You’re elevated from being a salesperson to a benefits counselor.

When you take time to listen, you discover concerns and objections that keep your pros-pects from buying.

If you’re advising a large employee population of African-American women, they may have a greater-than-average interest in cancer and critical illness coverage because they have a greater-than-average incidence of mortality from cancer. In South Carolina, for example, breast cancer mortality rates for black women have been increasing over the last few years. Insurance that includes a benefit for yearly mammograms may help save lives in this group.

Supplemental disability and life insurance may be another need for this group. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, households headed by single African-American women grew by 2.3 million in the 1990s. That means a tremendous number of African-American women could be candidates for supplemental policies.

African-American men face health challenges that should heighten interest in specific types of supplemental insurance. The American Cancer Society reports that African-Americans have the highest rate of prostate cancer and are twice as likely to die from it. If your potential customer (or her husband) has had one or more close relatives with this disease, he is at greater risk. By talking to your customers about these and other facts, you will be better able to help them make the best decision for themselves and their families.

Exercise taste and judgment
The most difficult sense to acquire may be good taste and judgment For all our sensitivity to cultural and other differences, it is still easy to make a damaging misstep. That’s why pursuing the abundant opportunities that the minority market offers requires time to understand the differences between cultures and people.

If you’re not a member of the demographic group you’re marketing to, plan to take extra time to build the relationship. Relationships are about people connecting with each other, and they don’t happen overnight.

Helping families that on the surface might seem different from your own can be a rewarding experience. You’ll gain new insights into their world and an appreciation for the cultures and people who make up our great country.

Sniff out opportunities
One of the best ways to reach specific groups is to bring in producers who are members of those groups. A diverse team can only help your agency grow and prosper. Also, take time to contribute to the community and become an active member of business and civic organizations. We have long enjoyed our association with the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. This organization does great things for the whole community. (It’s also a great recruiting tool.)

The sixth sense
The most important sense is the sixth: plain old common sense. When you’re successful in this kind of needs-selling approach, you accomplish two very common-sense goals. You succeed in building your business and, more importantly, you help your customers meet real needs to protect their families and their way of life. Makes sense, doesn’t it?

Steve Howard is a general agent for Colonial Supplemental Insurance’s southern California territory. You may contact him at 972-540-0428 or visit


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